Britain Spells IT Opportunities for Young Women: Q&A with Ivanti’s Melanie Karunaratne About STEM & Women in IT

Women in IT has been a hot topic as of late, and we’re excited to explore the topic more.

A 10-year Ivanti veteran based in our Bracknell, UK office near London, Melanie Karunaratne manages a Product Marketing team responsible for solutions that make up our Unified IT portfolio. Since graduation 25+ years ago, she’s worked exclusively in IT- or engineering-related companies: OEM and reseller; hardware; software; and semiconductor.

Melanie is also a STEM Ambassador, which has led her to volunteer Saturday mornings at a children’s coding club. The club was organized by Surrey Library Services (@SurreyLibraries) working in coordination with a worldwide organization called iamthecode (@iamthecode). Its founder, Mireme Jamme (@mjamme), aims to enable one million girl and women coders by 2030.

Inspiring Young People by Bringing STEM to Life

Ivanti’s official corporate cause is STEM education—Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math—“Maths” in the UK. In the following Q&A, Melanie explains what led her to the career path she’s pursued, some of her involvement as a STEM Ambassador, and how she feels about it.

Q: What led you to the career path you’re on?

MK: I started University around the time that Tim Berners Lee introduced the internet. The computer world just blew up. At University, our course included computing/coding/information systems. My internship was at Unisys working with the Professional Services team implementing onsite proofs of concept, as well as with the Channel Marketing team. That was the start of my career in technology marketing.

Q: Could you please share a little about your STEM volunteer efforts?

MK: The STEM Ambassador program encompasses more than 30,000 volunteers from 2,500+ employers, UK-wide. Ambassadors include apprentices, zoologists, set designers, climate change scientists, engineers, farmers, geologists, nuclear physicists, and architects. They are approved and registered individuals (with completed disclosure barring service certificate and identity checks) and are associated with one of several coordinating hubs in the UK that link various support opportunities with active Ambassadors. In my case, I’m linked to the STEM Sussex hub (@stemsussex).

As a registered STEM Ambassador, we can provide all manner of help and support in schools and in youth and community groups—and the activities are certainly varied. A few months back I supported an after-school STEM club that was working towards a challenge competition set up by petroleum giant BP to use everyday objects and create energy from water.

Specifically concerning the iamthecode organization, it donated Kano computer kits for all the clubs that the Library Service has set up in my local county. Kano kits are built around a Raspberry Pi with screen and a keyboard.

In these sessions, the children use the kit components to build a computer and learn the names of each component as well as how they fit together. Once the kids have the kits up and running they learn Python and other coding skills. They use code to create art, play games, and hack Minecraft among other things.

The children also have access to use Littlebits electronic building blocks. The iamthecode organization provides a curriculum and various worksheet activities that the children can follow, or they can work on the own initiatives. Most recently the organization ran a competition for the children to work on a coding project of their choosing around the sustainability goals of the UN.

Q: What’s your take on the importance of sparking a greater interest in technology / coding / STEM among girls and young women? 

MK: Ultimately, the most important impact is on improving outcomes for young people. Even those young people that are passionate about STEM still need a helping hand in adjacent skills like learning how to plan their projects, leading their project team, communication skills, and even PowerPoint tricks.

Sparking interest in technology / coding plays a vital role in helping girls and young women understand why STEM subjects are important, and how widely they can be applied in the world of work. In some cases, it will help change mindsets about the world of work. We help them question, experiment, and investigate to solve problems that a STEM-based business may face.

I’ve heard from many of my female work colleagues past and present that they were one of a handful of women in their respective STEM courses at University. We need to encourage more girls to pursue STEM subjects at school to change this situation. My hope for girls is that this real-world industry support impacts their interest, enjoyment, and perceptions—and helps blow away stereotyping that they may have encountered around STEM.

Plus, from a commercial standpoint, there is growing evidence that including women in STEM roles increases the chances of commercially viable and acceptable products. For example, if you are building user experiences for your consumers, then you need staff that offer insights to meet the needs of all your target market, or you are potentially missing out.